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African youth entrepreneurs need to see more relatable success stories

Entrepreneurship has a branding problem in Africa

The perception among African youth entrepreneurs needs to change. But, for that to happen, African youth need to see more entrepreneurship successes of homegrown business by Africans like themselves.  A research-based report released last month by Africa’s premier entrepreneurship initiative, the Anzisha Prize, highlights that entrepreneurship on the continent has a branding problem that is impacting how youth perceive their potential roles as entrepreneurs.

The report titled Unlocking Africa’s Job Creators was compiled through on the ground data collected over the 10-year period that the initiative has been running. According to the Anzisha Prize, which is a partnership between MasterCard and the African Leadership Academy, many people still strongly hold the idea that, for one to start a business, one must first secure funding. Another view expressed in the report is that for one to attain entrepreneurial success one should be older and have some previous experience of professional work.

The report further highlights that local and global media have equally played a role in solidifying these perceptions. Deputy Director of the Anzisha Prize, Melissa Mbazo-Ekpenyong says that local and international media have tended to concentrate primarily on technology startups: “The perception persists and prevails partly due to the role of media and, because of this, technology startups are viewed as being the only viable business opportunity of this era.”

The tendency to focus the most attention on technology startups has created the perception that this is the only viable entrepreneurship sector.

“We need to change that narrative. We have learnt that young African entrepreneurs need examples of business people that are relatable, reachable and reflect what it means to run a business on the continent,” said Mbazo-Ekpenyong.

Melissa is encouraging the continent to join efforts in promoting the success stories of entrepreneurs on the continent and how they beat the odds. And for the local media to consider promoting domestic stories before other global examples of success.

“One powerful example is Koffi N’guessan from Cote D’Ivoire who was part of the 2016 Anzisha Prize Fellowship cohort, selected at 19 years old. His business, Yaletite Entrepreneurship Group, was already turning over almost $250 000 annually through crop sales of maize, cassava and pepper. Today, through serving his over 7 000 customers with excellence, his business is thriving with revenues of almost $1m per year and employing 116 people,” she concludes.

The Anzisha Prize report stressed that, while the media tends to concentrate public attention on technology startups, this is a relatively small subset of the entrepreneurship opportunity spectrum and therefore does not mirror the reality of the majority of African youth. It does emphasise, however, that entrepreneurship does not have an awareness problem: Even a cursory glance at the media, policy initiatives, and discourse on economic development would reveal growing public interest in the concept of business ownership. It suggests that, instead, more attention should be directed towards redefining entrepreneurship success in Africa as this popularity grows.

Accordingly, similar research by the Tony Elumelu Foundation in partnership with Stanford University on entrepreneurship in Africa attests to the fact that most Africans believe that entrepreneurship success is dependent on prior work experience and access to funding.

The report concludes that awareness of other African entrepreneurs who have succeeded in similar circumstances is paramount to whether or not young people choose viable business opportunities and also stay the course.

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